Story by Jeannie Stone
Patrick Reynolds of Russellville has a lot for which to be thankful. He changed tires at a local automotive store only a few years ago when his wife died tragically, leaving him to care for his middle-school son.
To hear just the facts, it would seem Patrick’s life was one never-ending hardship. Delving into drugs after losing his father, he spent a year in jail. His own two-year-old son didn’t recognize him upon his release, but Patrick feels God was working to transform him from the inside out because of two men who had befriended him.
Gale Toney and Danny Hudson prayed for Patrick and encouraged a new life path. Toney was a member of Fellowship of Christians (FOC), and Hudson, a member of The Journey.
“Gale even opened his home to me when I was released because I’d lost my home while I was serving time,” Patrick said.
“Look, these people in this community are so awesome,” he said. “The folks at FOC are all about changing people’s lives.”
“God sent me a vision of me standing on the edge of a canyon,” he said. “My old life lay at the bottom, and I remember I turned away from the hole in the ground… That morning I knew I could turn away from that old life and be obedient, trust the Lord and have all my fears of money just vanish.”
That’s when Patrick started visiting churches and joined FOC. “There comes a time,” Patrick said, “when you not only give yourself over to God, but you have to surround yourself with believers who support and nurture you.”
Bad times continue to plague him – his wife passed away from cancer and left him to raise their child, and health issues complicated his life.
Working at the only job he could find with a criminal record, Patrick changed tires until a knee injury forced him to take a break. His back against a proverbial wall, he fell into running the service truck, which was often dispatched in the middle of the night.
“I worked 24/7, and I’d have to drag Austin from bed when I’d make my runs, so he wouldn’t be home alone,” Patrick said.
Then, the unthinkable happened. A second knee injury forced Patrick under the knife. “That’s when I started praying for a different life.”
Patrick wasn’t the only one praying. Toney and Hudson, the church-going men who’d befriended him in jail and encouraged him to join a church family, had a long history of praying for Patrick.
So, after his boss remarked that Patrick would never do anything more than change tires, Patrick, at the age of 36, quit his job and enrolled in college.
“I would have never gone to college had I not been praying for the Lord to guide me, had He not granted me that vision, had others not been praying for me, and had my boss not made such an insulting remark,” he said.
Deciding to study Fish and Wildlife Biology because he liked the outdoors, Patrick began volunteering his time to agencies such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“I wanted to get a feel for the line of work I wanted to do,” he said.
Experience he got. He tested water quality, researched lake productivity using Rotenone sampling, caught Gypsy moths which can be detrimental to trees, and was involved in nuisance bear trappings before he found employment. He worked as a biological science technician monitoring elk habitats at Bearcat Hollow for three years. He then worked out of the Conway field office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species biologist for a little over a year before he graduated from Arkansas Tech University.
Meanwhile, Patrick was becoming active in his church. Though he cites work as the reason he didn’t join a team who made a mission trip to work with Gloria Santos and the Ray of Hope ministry in Brazil, he was intrigued with the impression the experience made on his friends who did participate.
After visiting the following year with no Patrick on board, those friends brought home news of the ministry founder Gloria.
“They described her as this beautiful woman who loved the outdoors, and they wondered who or what I was waiting for,” he said, “so, we started corresponding on Skype (a popular computer software enabling users to converse, face to face, over the Web.) I planned a visit down there and proposed to her.”
None of that would have been possible had God not been the center of his life, Patrick said.
“Gloria had been single eight or nine years, and I hadn’t been involved in a relationship for a long time. I truly believe God created us for each other.”
Vital to the spiritual health of the relationship is the counseling Elder and Associate Pastor David Eslick provided for the couple — she attended by way of Skype — and the support from their community of believers.
Ray of Hope, a ministry co-founded by Gloria, seeks to transform the lives of the children and families living in the villages scattered along the edge of the River Amazon in Brazil. Every week in remote parts of Brazil, the Ray of Hope team takes to the river to meet the needs of the children of the Amazon, bringing love to villages in very practical ways. They conduct Kid’s clubs, working with children with special needs and helping young mothers tend to the needs of their children. Ray of Hope has been supporting families, providing food, clothing and medical care. They are now strategically building schools, improving literacy by introducing the National school’s curriculum in remote locations for these people.
“From the moment I arrived last year there was nothing but acceptance from Gloria’s family. Even the Ray of Hope team accepted me,” Patrick said. “I came back convinced I needed to sell everything we owned and get back as soon as we could.”
Not in this adventure alone, 14-year old Austin is part of the package.
“I was kind of in awe, and I find it hard to believe until we’re really there,” Austin said. “It’s kind of hard to see my dad sell our land, but in a way, I’m kind of excited too.”
“Austin is crazy about the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Patrick said, “and over there they are fanatics about soccer, so I think his perspective will change.”
And there is much work to be done.
“Pastor Wayne Drain said it well: ‘It’s time to release worship to the poor,’” Patrick said. “And everyone has a role to fill. I’m grateful God has given me the opportunity to serve the truly poor for as deprived of material goods as they are, they are rich in the spirit.”
In fact, the small village of Coast do Catalao just received plastic water filters, the first in the Amazon. The debut portends a great public health boon as many diseases are preventable with a clean water supply.
The Ray of Hope Web site newsletter states that an 11-year-old boy in the village reported never drinking clean water. The only water the boy had known was water from the river.
So touched by the plight of others, Gloria has begun the process of adopting a young girl named Victoria, so that Austin and his dad will make up half of a newly-made family.
“The last time I talked to Gloria she told me I didn’t know how much I was loved over there, and I believe her,” Patrick said.
Recently, his former boss’ brother approached Patrick and congratulated him for turning his life around.
“Really, the glory belongs to God,” he said. “My testimony is not about the darkness I’ve walked through but the light of what the Lord has in store for me, Austin and our new family.”